BOB GARFIELD: This month marks the second anniversary of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, the beginning of the war on terror. But in India, it's also the anniversary of the birth of a comic strip that catapulted President George W. Bush into Indian fame as an idiot Superhero. Since then, the cartoon has lampooned the U.S. president every day in the pages of the country's most widely circulated English language newspaper. It is India's most popular comic, and its popularity has only increased since the war on Iraq, as Miranda Kennedy reports from New Delhi.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: In Dubyaman, the comic strip created by Indian journalist Jug Suraiya, President George W. Bush undergoes an identity transformation. From the respected world leader mourning the tragic September 11th attacks, he becomes a Rambo-talking, gunslinging, somewhat intellectually-challenged excuse for a superhero who dashes into broom closets. [CLIP PLAYS]
JUG SURAIYA: Seconds later, he emerges as...Dubyaman, the Caped Crusader, the Knickered Knacker, the scourge of international terrorism. Faster than a hijacked airliner, swifter than a speeding bullet-- shazam, up, up and away!
MIRANDA KENNEDY: Jug Suraiya, working with an artist named Neelabh, created the comic strip two years ago. Now Dubyaman appears every day in India's mass circulation, centrist newspaper, the Times of India. Dubyaman, with pumped up biceps under a tight blue bodysuit, emblazoned with a red W. Dubyaman, with a red cape flying behind him and a goofy look of existential perplexity on his face. Jug Suraiya.
JUG SURAIYA: I first thought of Dubyaman as a kind of a superman type hero which would signify the military might and muscle of America, but unfortunately he has the, the brain of a George W. Bush, so, so this makes him sort of doubly dangerous, and the idea was to show that far from being a sort of a superpatriot, this man could be a potential danger, not just to his supposed enemies, but also to his friends and to his own country people.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: Dubyaman's activities range from the exaggerated to the ridiculous, with an Indian twist. He has regular chats with an ineffective, gluttonous Indian prime minister and is regularly duped by a scheming Pakistani president. But mostly, Dubyaman flies around mispronouncing the names of the places he has bombed and crashing into world monuments, and battling his primary nemesis, the Statue of Liberty.
KAMAL CHENOY: Dubyaman is something which is unprecedented. There has never been a comic strip about a current politician in the Indian English language press. Never.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: Kamal Chenoy is an international relations professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
KAMAL CHENOY: So actually it's not just a critique of George W. Bush. It is a critique of American foreign policy, and the fact that it has this response shows that it strikes a sympathetic chord in a very wide spectrum of the population.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: Dubyaman gets hundreds of fan letters a week and a healthy amount of hate mail. The strip's creators continually deny accusations of being anti-American, anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim. Chandran Mittra, editor of the right-leaning Pioneer newspaper, says the cartoon takes an irresponsibly lighthearted attitude toward major world events, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
CHANDRAN MITTRA: And by making fun of President Bush and his alleged lack of intellectual abilities, in a sense undermined the war against terror. I thought it was not in good taste, and it certainly wasn't helping the cause of the war against terror.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: Nevertheless, Mittra admits he reads Dubyaman every day. Even those who dislike the comic strip agree that it not only reflects but influences public opinion in India. In the troubled aftermath of the war on Iraq, Dubyaman's popularity shows the extent to which America dominates the mindscape of the average Indian. Jug Suraiya.
JUG SURAIYA: I think one of the reasons why Dubyaman has continued to fly in, in the Times of India is that India is completely fascinated by America, and yet remains very fearful of its size and its power, and I think that's, that's the reason why it works. Because the Indian perception of America, both at the political level and at the popular level, is double-edged, like satire.
MIRANDA KENNEDY: For On the Media, I'm Miranda Kennedy in New Delhi. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, idol worship around the world, and a murdered journalist gets the Hollywood treatment.